CHILDREN WHO HAVE MURDERED K. S. Walsh-Brennan, MSc, MB, MFCM, MRCPsych, DPH, DPM Consultant Psychiatrist to Trafford Area Health Authority SUMMARY

An analysis of I I children convicted of homicide, one girl and ten boys, indicates a maternal over-dominant relationship in eight of the males studied. The murderers were found to have more co-operative personalities than other children found guilty of non-capital offences and showed both normal intelligence and personality factors. Despite a history of 'blackouts' in several cases, all were found on investigation to be free from both major and minor epilepsy. Difficulty was experienced in determining the presence or absence of parental alcoholism, promiscuity and criminal convictions. All of the ten boys and the girl came from normal homes and apart from minor offences none were involved previously in serious anti-social behaviour. Future research is indicated on two aspects: (a) role of the working mother with particular reference to maternal dominance, and (b) the 'Cycle of Deprivation Theory'i! THERE has been an increase in crime since World War 11,1 With this change there have also occurred variations in the pattern of murders by both sexes and all ages in England and Wales particularly since the introduction of the Homicide Act in 1957 as shown in Fig. I and a growth in acts of homicide by children as shown in Fig. 2. Before the abolition of the death penalty for homicide the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 defined 18 years as the minimum age for execution, the last teenager to be hanged being 'Flossie' Forsythe in 1960 at the age of 18. Before 1966 a murderer could 'hang by the neck until dead' and due to this courts were more ready to allow a culprit to be termed 'insane', so that since then the number of 'insane' murderers of both sexes and all ages has fallen from four

Abolition of toe death penalty

80 70






'040 030


20 10 r--e>--e>---"'O-~--o-_-O_« Years 1957 58









Murder motives from 1957 to 1971. . ' insane; l::" sane (personal motives); 0, sane (criminal motives).

FIG. 1.



Total aged less than 18 Year when offence was committed







1959 I 19 60 4 1961 I 1962 2 I 1963 1964 I 1965 I 1966 3 1967 5 19 68 4 19 69 9 1970 8 I 1971 8 1972 8 FIG. 2. Boys and girls found guilty of murder in England and Wales between 1957 and 1972 who were younger than 18 at the time when the offence was recorded as known to the Police

times the figure for those classed as 'normal' or 'sane' to an equal amount as in Fig.!. Due to this people are now going to prison who would instead have gone to Broadmoor or Rampton, an unforeseen development ofcommunitypsychiatry,2 as prison violence poses the question as to whether facilities there are adequate for killers who would previously have been sent to the Special Hospitals, e.g. Broadmoor or Rampton. Regarding factors making a child killer Cmnd. 3601, 'Children in Trouble', HMSO, April 1963, para. 49 states 'there are many influences on the behaviour of children and that of the family is particularly important'. In his Sing-Sing Prison Survey, Gleuck" related psychopathy to home background. So also did johnston! at the Mayo Clinic. As a result of 10 years of study of parent and child at the Mayo Clinic, Johnston concluded that children who are aggressive, homicidal, set fires or exhibit sexual aborrations 'are usually doing what their parents subconconsciously wish' and that 'the child's defective conscious is traceable to a like defect in the parents' own poor resolution of unconscious impulses to similar anti-social behaviour'. Burt associated childhood violence with the parents. For 'to lose respect for one's parents', he concluded, 'is to lose respect for oneself, for one's fellows, and for the whole basis of morality'." It is noteworthy that poverty was not considered a cause by Burt, in which sense he quotes Seneca (Epist. XVI), 'Si ad naturem vivas, numquam eris pauper; si ad desiderium, numquan dives' ('If you live in accordance with Nature, you will never be poor; if you live in accordance with your desires, you will never be rich'.) Spock considered that 'A child acquires his basic standards from his parents. If they are decent people and love him, he loves them deeply too, and patterns himself after them. It was thus decided to investigate a group of I I child and adolescent murderers, one girl and ten boys, under three aspects as follows: 1. Family and social history.



2. Adverse factors in family background. 3. Previous criminal records, psychological, psychiatric aspects and treatment. The age of the group was 10 to 1St when the offence was recorded as known to the police in England and Wales, and the results of the investigation in each of the I I subjects is detailed as follows: FAMILY AND SOCIAL HISTORY

One boy was the son of a policeman, another of a postman. The girl's parents fulfilled the criteria of Social Class IV as did five of the males. Three were in Class V while doubt existed regarding, the remaining two boys. In contrast to the observation by Burt who noted a high proportion of only children in this context, none of the children fell into this category. Five were the eldest in their families, one the youngest and the remainder in intermediate grades. The five eldest could be associated with the Gleucks' Survey who reported a deficiency of only and youngest children in their group." While there was only one female in the group it was noteworthy that she was the eldest in keeping with the work of Ming Tse-Tsuang (1969) who found eldest girls more aggressive and emotionally more unstable than their siblings." None of the II was adopted and all were legitimate. Interpersonal dynamics between the girl and her mother were normal. In eight of the ten boys the maternal role was aggressive and overdominant as illustrated in the following case histories: The case history of one boy (D'E.) who was convicted at the age of 12t, of murdering a subnormal girl, aged II, is an example. He was the product of an intact home background with no marked material deprivation. The home background was disturbed, however, in that father was a weak passive figure who left not only the running of the house but other responsibilities to his wife. The female parent gradually assumed a dominant and aggressive role to the extent of bringing into the house at different periods two male companions with whom she had sexual relations. Another case history is that of N.S. who drowned a boy. His father, a postman, spent little time at home and left familial discipline to his 14 stone wife who came from the Isle of Man. Norman's mother was a demanding, attentionseeking 'mannish type' woman who ruled Norman rigidly and the rest of the family in which he had an intermediate position. ADVERSE FACTORS IN FAMILY BACKGROUND

Parental promiscuity existed in at least three cases. Alcoholism was not found in anyone of the parental groups; but as alcoholics lack insight, and are unreliable, information may not have been disclosed to the investigating social workers. The father of the girl was the only parent with a criminal conviction although suspected in three other cases. Only one family had a member with chronic physical illness, a spastic child causing inter-personal stress: the remainder were physically fit. There was also no record of parental neuroses nor psychoses. The girl came from a slum area in Newcastle upon Tyne, five boys came from congested industrial regions, one lived in a National Park in North Wales, the rest in rural or suburban areas.



As Poniatowski in an address to the 1973 Conference of European Ministers of Health at the Council of Europe proposed, payment of a 'social wage' to mothers with children at risk with anti-social traits" investigations were carried out into the proportion of working mothers. Five of the female parents went out to earn money, but for varying periods of time alternating with illness and redundancy. In view of statistical difficulties in establishing criteria and the observation by Stolz (1960) that 'one can say almost anything one desired about children of employed mothers and support the statement by some research study'," this research was left for a later occasion. Difficulty was experienced in attempting to establish criteria to assess 'The Cycle of Deprivation Theory' put forward by ] oseph.!" and while there were indications in the girl and four of the boys of possible applicability, the eight overdominant maternal relationships appeared more noteworthy. PREVIOUS CRIMINAL RECORDS, PSYCHOLOGICAL, PSYCHIATRIC, NEUROLOGICAL ASPECTS AND TREATMENT

The girl had no criminal record. Three boys did, but of merely a minor nature. (Here it is perhaps noteworthy that Occupational Therapy Staff found the homicidal children more co-operative generally than other boys and girls with non-capital offences.) Three psychological tests were applied to each member of the group, as follows: (a) Burt; (b) Weschler; (c) Cattell.

Normal intellect was found in all 33 examinations with no indications of Mental Handicap. All the subjects were physically fit and although 'blackouts' had been reported in several cases, they proved negative on routine examination with WR, X-ray skull, EEG, etc. Three of the boys had anxiety reactions but no other neuroses or psychoses, nor were child psychiatry aids-' required. Contrary to expectation none showed attention seeking or demanding behaviour, thus facilitating rehabilitation as found by Gosney et al.12 Treatment varied considerably. One boy aged I I examined by the author in October 1973 who had killed a man of 47 by fracturing his skull with a brick was sent home for Christmas. The girl at one time spent a short period in a paediatric ward after conviction. Four received Borstal sentences and the rest transferred to Community Homes. DISCUSSION

Treatment thus appears empirical and different from the year 1801 when Andrew Benning aged 13 was hanged. Various reasons are put forward for the increase in the number of child killers, e.g. TV violence considered by Belson'" during fieldwork on 1,564 London boys in the 12-17 year old age group. The increase coincides with the 1968 childrens' drug abuse peak recorded by BoydU and may be related to the concept of 'Social Deprivation' put forward by Eisenberg'! which tends to conform with the animal behaviour research of Tinbergen, i.e. 'deprivation of parental, perhaps primarily maternal 10ve',16



A theory that better detection of battered babies leads to more battered babies living who themselves later batter and kill is put forward by Andrew'? in addition to 'The Permissive Society' described by Whiteley.P In the group studied the figure of eight overdominant mothers appears noteworthy. Adoption agencies may take encouragement from the fact that none were adopted and all legitimate. In view of the relatively large number of abnormal maternal relationships, further research is indicated on two aspects: (a) role of the working mother as defined by Stolz with particular reference to maternal dominance, and (b) 'the Cycle of Deprivation' theory put forward by Joseph. REFERENCES I.



4. 5. 6. 7.

8. 9. 10. II.

12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18.

Skelhorn, Sir Norman, Q.C., Director of Public Prosecutions: discussions with the author. Walsh-Brennan, K. S., 'Legal Aspects of Community Psychiatry', J. Roy. Inst. Pub. Health (1973), 5, 169, pp. 169-75. Gleiick, Bernard C., 'Psychodynamic Patterns in the Sex Offender', Psychiat. Qtly., Vol. 28, I, 1954. Johnston, A., 'Individual Anti-Social Behaviour', Amer. J., Dis. Child, Chicago 84 (4), April 1955. Burt, Cyril, The Young Delinquent, Univ. of Lond. Press, 1944. Gleuck, S. and Gleiick, E. (1950), Unravelling Juvenile Delinquency, Cambridge, Mass. Ming-Tse Tsuang (1966), 'Birth order and maternal age of psychiatric in-patients', Brit. J. Psychiat., 112, II31-41. Poniatowski, Michael, Address to Con£. European Ministers of Health, Council of Europe, 11.9.73. Stolz, L. M. (1960), 'Effects of maternal employment on children: evidence from research', Child Deuelopm., 31, 749-82. Joseph, Sir Keith: Address to the Nat. Assocn. for Mat. and Child Welfare, 27.6.73, and The Lancet, 1972, ii, 774. Walsh-Brennan, K. S., 'Child Psychiatry-A Nursing Aid', Bt. Med. [ourn., Vol. 3, No. 5881, 22.9.73, pp. 628-

Children who have murdered.

MEDICO-LEGAL JOURNAL 20 CHILDREN WHO HAVE MURDERED K. S. Walsh-Brennan, MSc, MB, MFCM, MRCPsych, DPH, DPM Consultant Psychiatrist to Trafford Area H...
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